In February 1943, Haitian born Raymond Cassagnol, a talented mechanic was given the rare opportunity to be trained as a pilot at the prestigious Tuskegee Army Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama. Cassagnol accepted the invitation and soon found a love of flying. Following his training, Cassagnol returned to his home country and was tasked with patrolling for German U Boats. His most memorable mission, however, was attempting to oust Haitian dictator François Duvalier. In an act of rebellion against the dictator’s corruption, he flew a B-25 over the National Palace to bomb out Duvalier and found asylum back in America. Cassagnol is the last remaining Haitian with silver wings from Tuskegee. 


In 1949 Lieutenant Colonel James H. Harvey III, a member of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen and his team won the military’s first ‘Top Gun,’ a prestigious gunnery contest among Air Force pilots. Despite the clear victory, the winner was recorded as “unknown” and the trophy was mysteriously lost. This important honor was overlooked for more than 70 years and it wasn’t until 1955 that the Air Force properly recorded this historic win. The “lost” trophy wasn’t found until 2005 when an historian found it in storage at an Air Force museum. The Top Gun honor was one of Harvey’s proudest moments, one in which he “waited a lifetime” to receive. Harvey’s other important claim to fame was that he was the first African American jet fighter pilot to fly in the Korean War. 


On August 11th,1951 in the midst of the Korean war, James McEachin’s King Company set out to recover the body of a fellow soldier killed the night before. The company was suddenly ambushed by an enemy division and McEachin was severely wounded trying to aid a wounded lieutenant.  McEachin was found bleeding and in bad shape. With no medical corpsman nearby, an unidentified soldier carried him across a long stretch of terrain to a U.S. Army position. McEachin was then evacuated to Japan, to undergo surgery and then suffered a long healing process. McEachin’s Army service records were lost, and he never learned the name of the soldier who had saved his life. He only remembered the Caucasian man carrying him to safety that day saying, “We’re both brothers under the skin.” After the war, Jim McEachin became a popular actor in Hollywood, co-starring with Clint Eastwood in a number of films and becoming the first African-American actor to star in his own prime time TV series…”Tenafly.”


These are a few of the many riveting stories that were recorded for the National Park Service’s Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument’s oral history project. From coast to coast, a total of seventy African American service members and defense workers shared their distant memories of wartime strife and sacrifice. This important project endeavors to preserve these individual stories from World War II and the Korean War.


BPI researched, identified, secured and filmed all 70 interview subjects which was no easy feat in the beginning of a pandemic, especially one that was hitting the oldest members of our country’s population the hardest. Add to the mix that the average age of the soldiers was 95 years of age and many had no presence on social media or even an email address. That didn’t stop our top-rate researchers. They tapped into strong family and community networks to locate and secure the soldiers who were a perfect fit for the assignment. 


Production commenced and we quickly realized what an amazing gift we were bestowed. Each interview was as intriguing as the next. Elements of adventure, triumph, sadness and devastation emerged from these candid accounts without hesitation. The truths in these interviews require generations of reflection and are essential to understand the pervasive racism of the era. The stories motivate, inspire and stir emotion. 


 Lieutenant Gerald Greenfield shared in his interview that “This was the first time that I have been recognized as a world war two veteran, after 30 years in the military.“ He then thanked us for including him in our research. His statement made the crew pause and sit with the heavy meaning behind his words. Six months later that heavy feeling remains. We knew that these amazing stories were important to American history and would have a profound impact on a wide audience, but we never imagined the impact that this recognition would have on the veterans themselves. 


BPI is very appreciative to the National Park Service not only for the opportunity to participate in this important project, but also for the chance to share these important stories of courage and heroism with the world.

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